The Union government has fmally woken-up to the danger being faced by Orissa's Olive Ridley Turtles, an endangered species. It will launch a programme, "Sea Turtle Project", on the lines of Project Tiger. Since the beginning of the year, thousands of turtles have died on the Gahirmatha beach of Orissa, which has three rook- eries at the mouth of rivers Devi and Rushikulya of Orissa (Down To Earth, Vol. 7, No.2). According to an estimate by environmentalist and researchers, about 15,000 to 18,000 turtles have died along the 480 km-long Orissa coast. The Gahirmatha beach is the largest nesting ground for the species. But only one in 10,000 hatcheries of which survive to reach maturity. Roughly half of over two million Olive Ridleys from all the world over have been turning up regular- ly at Gahirmatha for mass nesting.

Swaraj, a non-governmental organisation, which has been close- ly monitoring the behaviour of the turtles believes that the main reason behind the large-scale deaths of the turtles has been the reckless operations of the fishing trawlers, coupled with gill netting in the shore waters adjacent to the turtle rookeries. Once entangled in the nets, they are forced to remain underwater as the trawlers can sweep the waters for up to two hours at a stretch searching for fish. The nets can be as long as five km. The trapped turtles die of suffoca- tion as they cannot remain under water for more than half an hour.

Banka Behari Das, an environmentalist and the president of the Krushak Mahasangh informed that the project is being finalised by the Union environment ministry and will be launched by the year end. The United Nations Development Programme is likely to fund the project, and the ministry is also in touch with other funding organisations. The government had declared Gahirmatha a marine sanctuary and banned trawler fish- ing within 20 km of the coast.

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